Orange Walk District
At first glance, there’s nothing surreal about Orange Walk. This lovely Belize district is home to small towns amid unspoiled jungle. To get around, Northwest Highway neatly intersects the district but if you look beyond this thruway, you’ll see a network of farms bordered by unpaved roads. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Yet these roads are defined by the farmers themselves! Can you imagine telling your community you’ve decided to declare your own boundaries by creating streets? Probably not. To the south and west of these farmer-drawn roads is the darkest and most dense jungle in the Orange Walk District referred to as deep bush. If you’re traveling in this direction, you must visit Gallon Jug and have your photo taken beside this village’s quirky sign.
Three Surreal Experiences
- Does the name McAfee sound familiar? It’s a branded software invented by a guy named John McAfee to protect computers from viruses. Sadly, the genius behind the brand made international headlines when he moved to Belize and adopted a surreal lifestyle, hunkering down in Orange Walk where–depending upon which tabloid you read–he managed a harem of under-age women, set up a drug lab and accused the Belize government in concert with the CIA of plotting against him. Today, his home remains a pilgrimage site for those fascinated with his story. McAfee now lives in Tennessee, so if you drop by his Orange Walk complex, he won’t chase you off the property.
- While the Mayan people left any number of weird and wonderful remnants of their culture in Orange Walk, Lamanai is considered one of the most fascinating. It was occupied during the Pre-Classic period (4th Century BC to 1st Century AD) and of the architectural wonders built in this area, one of the most surreal is Stele #9. Located north of the compound’s residential complex, this bizarre-looking statue celebrates the accession of Lord Smoking Shell, a scary figure wearing a rattlesnake and feathers on his head and a massive double-headed snake worn diagonally across his body. Five children’s skeletons are buried beneath him; a rarity since human offerings are never associated with Mayan accession rituals.
- Rio Bravo Conservation and Management sounds like your average Belize ecological site and it looks like one, too. This conservation area is awash in oak and pine savanna edged by limestone rain forest that’s home to 70 species of mammals and more than 400 types of birds. Nothing surreal about either right? But when Louisiana State Anthropod Museum scientists came to Orange Walk to study area insects in the late 1990s, researchers were shocked to find species that had never before been seen. Their small scientific study proved that many Rio Bravo insects are literally “new to science.” It doesn’t get any more surreal than this revelation!
Where to Stay in Orange Walk
There’s only one place to stay when you make your surreal pilgrimage to Orange Walk: The El Gran Mestizo (http://elgranmestizo.bz/). Why? Because after you’ve had your fill of crazy Americans, Lord Smoking Shell and insects never before seen by scientists, you need a refuge that’s tranquil, charming and so comfortable, leaving your cozy riverside cabin won’t be easy, but you will want to wander over to Maracas, a charming bar and grill serving authentic Mestizo and other international dishes on premises. It’s just a short stroll to Orange Walk Town where you can explore eateries, shops, boutiques and markets before returning to your hand-crafted bed, cable TV and Wi-Fi if you must find out what’s going on—surreal or otherwise–in the world.